First Offense Drug Charges in New Jersey

“In this page, we answer frequent questions about potential penalties for a first drug offense in NJ and the ways you may be able to have your drug charge dismissed.”

1st time drug offenses New Jersey help best defense

First Time Drug Arrests New Jersey

When you are charged with a drug offense in New Jersey for the first time, whether it is possession of CDS, distribution, possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, or another crime, you are likely full of questions about what the charges mean, how the legal process will go moving forward, the penalties you are facing, and how you can successfully resolve your case. At The Tormey Law Firm, our NJ drug defense attorneys handle drug cases for first-time offenders on a regular basis in Municipal and Superior courts across New Jersey. In this page, we will answer some of the most frequently-asked questions that our clients ask when facing their first drug charge in New Jersey.

What are the Penalties for a First Drug Offense?

This depends on the specific degree of the charges against you. For example, possession of marijuana under 50 grams is a disorderly persons offense, while possession of cocaine or heroin is a third degree crime, and possession of prescription drugs depends on the amount of units or pills involved. On the other hand, if it is a distribution charge, the grading is based on the type of CDS and the amount. On your complaint, it should say “a crime of the __ degree” or “a disorderly persons offense.” Read our specific pages about various degrees of crimes to find out more about the potential penalties you are facing:

What does my Drug Charge Mean?

When you receive a complaint or summons for a drug charge, there is a statute listed on the document that begins with “N.J.S.A.” Criminal charges involving drugs are addressed in Section 2C, Chapter 35 of the New Jersey Statutes, so your charge may say N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10 (possession of CDS), N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5 (distribution of CDS), or another statute within this section. This is important because the specific statute defines the crime you are accused of committing and determines where your case will be handled, as well as the potential penalties associated with a conviction. If you are charged with a motor vehicle offense involving drugs, your summons will not have a “2C” reference, but instead will likely begin with N.J.S.A. 39. For example, driving under the influence of drugs (DUI, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50) and possession of CDS in a motor vehicle (N.J.S.A. 39:4-49.1) are common traffic violations involving drugs. You can check out our drug charges page to find the offense that applies in your case, or simply contact us anytime for a free consultation and an explanation of your charge.

Should I Plead Guilty?

The short answer: no. As a first-time drug offender, you have a host of options to get your charges dismissed, whether that involves an outright dismissal in court or a diversionary program. An experienced criminal defense attorney can ensure that you understand and pursue all of your available options to avoid a conviction on your record. Read on to learn about effective ways to defend a drug case and programs that can be used to get the charges dismissed.

What are Possible Defenses for a First Drug Charge?

There are a number of defense strategies that an experienced New Jersey drug defense lawyer can use to challenge the State’s case and ultimately get your drug charges dismissed. We explain a number of these in our defense strategy videos, using marijuana as an example. These defenses can apply in any drug case under the right circumstances:

How Else Can I get Drug Charges Dismissed? – Diversionary Programs

If it is your first drug charge and based on the evidence, it is unlikely that you can have your charges dismissed outright, you can also obtain a dismissal by securing enrollment in a diversionary program. The most common programs used to resolve a drug case for a first-time offender are Pretrial Intervention and Conditional Discharge. Read on the find out more about these programs and which one may apply in your case.

Conditional Discharge Program

The Conditional Discharge Program is for drug cases that are handled in Municipal Court, meaning it applies if your drug charge is for a disorderly persons offense such as possession of drug paraphernalia. In order to enroll in Conditional Discharge, which is explained in N.J.S.A. 2C:36A, you must have no prior criminal record, have never used a diversionary program before, and be charged with a minor drug offense. Once you are enrolled, you must remain arrest-free for a period of 6 months to 1 year and pass any random drug tests that are administered. After successfully completing the program, the original charge is dismissed.

Pretrial Intervention Program

Pretrial Intervention, or PTI, functions in a similar way as conditional discharge, but it applies in Superior Court drug cases. If you are a first-time offender, you have no prior criminal convictions, you have never used a diversionary program before, and you are charged with a third degree or fourth degree crime, you are likely eligible for PTI. If you are admitted to PTI, you must comply with the conditions for a probationary period of between 1 and 3 years, after which the charges are dismissed.

NOTE: If you complete Conditional Discharge or PTI, you will not have a conviction on your criminal record, but the original arrest will still be there. You can proceed with the expungement process 6 months after completing one of these programs and remove the arrest altogether, which allows you to answer “NO” on any application asking if you have ever been arrested or charged with a crime.

Arrested for First-Time Drug Charges in New Jersey?

If you or a loved one has been charged with a first-time drug offense in New Jersey, the most important thing to know if that you have options. With the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, you can resolve this situation and move on with your life without jeopardizing your future. At The Tormey Law Firm, we have helped thousands of clients across New Jersey facing their first drug charges. With offices in Morristown, Hackensack, Newark, New Brunswick, and Middletown, we appear in courts throughout the state every single day. When we take your case, our goal is simple: deliver the best possible outcome. For a free consultation with a skilled drug defense lawyer, contact us anytime at (201)-556-1570. We will be happy to answer your questions and to explain how we can help.


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With unmatched knowledge and experience in the practice of law, the seasoned attorneys at The Tormey Law Firm are committed to serving their clients and tenaciously confronting the allegations against them.

We will examine every facet of your case in order to defend your constitutional rights and reputation. With a dedicated legal advocate to assist you, our attorneys will ensure that you are never forced to navigate the complex legal process on your own.

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Learn More About How to Fight Your Charges

If you've been charged with a criminal offense, disorderly persons offense, or traffic / DWI violation, you have the right to an attorney who will defend you against your charges and fight for your best interests. To learn more about how your attorney can fight to have your charges dismissed or reduced, click a link below to see our video library of legal defenses and strategies.

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Areas we serve

Bergen County, Essex County, Morris County, Passaic County, Hudson County, Middlesex County, Somerset County including Morristown, Denville, Dover, Mount Olive, Parsippany, Hackensack, East Rutherford, Elmwood Park, Englewood, Fort Lee, Garfield, Lodi, Lyndhurst, Mahwah, Palisades Park, Paramus, Ridgefield Park, Saddle Brook, Teaneck, Clifton, and Wayne.

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    254 State Street Hackensack, NJ 07601

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    55 Madison Avenue Suite 400, Morristown, NJ 07960

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